The Pescara Jazz festival was the first music festival in Italy to be dedicated to Jazz and fast became the flagship of all Abruzzo festivals. The legendary Bill Evans opened the first Pescara Jazz in July 18 1969 by debuting “Waltz For Debby” But while Bill Evans won acclaim for his performance at Pescara Jazz, he was extremely irate to discovered that his debut that was to be recorded as a live album was bootlegged in Japan shortly after. Next in line to play at Pescara Jazz was the former legendary drummer for Miles Davis, Phily Joe Jones who played alongside his group to include arguably one of the best Jazz pianists today, Larry Vuckovich.
A clip from Pescara Jazz
The video is of Chick Corea | Stanley Clarke | Lenny White | Jean-Kuc Ponty | Frank Gamble |
What makes Abruzzo’s Pescara Jazz a special festival amongst other Abruzzo festivals is that camera-shy Abruzzo is suddenly thrown in the international spot light – but briefly, when international famous artists descend to play in a festival located in a special region of Italy each summer.
Fresh, catchy, sophisticated sounds continue to play from the Pescara Jazz festival in Abruzzo, Italy well after legends played at the festivals in Pescara such as Philly Joe Jones Quintet, Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Charles Mingus, Woody Herman, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Pat Metheny, Chet Baker, Keith Jarrett Stan Getz, Wayne Shorter, Natalie Cole, and Herbie Hancock.
In an exclusive interview, legendary Larry Vuckovich speaks to us about how he played at the very first Pescara Jazz festival and musical festival in Italy dedicated to Jazz.
Pescara Jazz – First off thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me about your experience of playing in Italy’s very first music festival dedicated to Jazz as there seems to be so little documented about it. What were your first impressions of Pescara when you arrived in 1969? Did you manage to get around and explore the Pescara or the Abruzzo region?
Larry Vuckovich: I wish we did you know. I had very little time, we rested the day we arrived in Pescara and the very next day we played at Pescara Jazz. But the first impression was very very pleasant. You see I’m from the other side of the Adriatic from Montenegro coast and the thing that impressed me was that beautiful beach so we went to the hotel when we arrived changed and we went swimming that day. The weather was very warm that day and the water was very warm too and the food was lovely.
Pescara Jazz - You are a prolific musician in your own right. Critics have said “… any discussion of the best jazz piano players in the world must now include Larry Vuckovich!” What’s more you have also played with and continue to play with like minded artists. But what is more interesting is that you were playing in an era that was so rich with other Jazz legends. At the Pescara Jazz Festival for instance you played with Philly Joe Jones Quintet [who played drums for Miles Davis] – how did the show go and what was your opinion of your Italian audience who listened to you play at the time?
Larry Vuckovich: Italian audience are like the European audience especially the ones that came to the Pescara Jazz Festival have knowledge on the music because they listen to the music and have the records and the energy of the Pescara Jazz festival is always high and electric. Pescara was fun!
Pescara Jazz – Can you tell me a little bit about the music you were playing at the Jazz Festival in Pescara and the context for its time- was it hard bop you were playing and was it being accepted as mainstream Jazz in Italy or was it still considered as somewhat experimental for Italian ears at that time?
Larry Vuckovich: I don’t think it was experimental, it was Bepop, it wasn’t really anything far out or edgy like Miles Davis would experiment with, it was pretty much classic Bepop that was being played.
Pescara Jazz – Do you recall what the media’s reaction to the Pescara Jazz festival was? In your opinion was it a hit or a miss?
Larry Vuckovich: I wish that I followed it up with the Pescara Jazz festival promoters after, I usually do though but not that time at Pescara Jazz.
Pescara Jazz – What was your experience playing with Phily Joe and what were some of your fond memories playing and touring with him in particular in Europe and Pescara?
Larry Vuckovich: Phily Joe as a musician was great, he did not have an ego problem so he felt part of the band so he did not pull an ego trip on you and was commanding the band in that way. It was just playing so there was no over bearing negative energy so it felt great and very relaxed. He’s a true musician and a master.
Pescara Jazz – Bill Evans was extremely irate when he discovered that his live show at the Pescara Jazz festival was bootlegged in Japan shortly after he played but before that, did you manage to speak to him and gauge his reaction to Pescara and the Pescara Jazz Festival?
Larry Vuckovich: What happened was that they [Pescara Jazz] recorded this for the Italian radio and some Japanese guy when he heard it must of recorded it from the radio. The thing is that once it’s on the radio anyone could have taped it and make a bootleg record. I remember I first met him [Bill Evans] in London, he was playing at Ronnie Scotts at the time and my first questions to him was, “Bill how do you deal with not being able to have access to a piano like when you travel” and he said that one time I did not play for 3 months for whatever reason and he said it is really a state of mind, you can command your hands to play – and he is right it really comes from your head and your hands can be real floating and free if you are in that right mental state. Then I met him again at Pescara Jazz and he played really well and very solid as a group. Then I met him again in San Francisco at the great American Music Hall, he played with the same trio and I played intermissions and then I reminded him about Pescara Jazz. And he said just for a fact, Kind of Blue and Blue and Green were his. [Miles Davis had released those tunes under his own album]
Pescara Jazz – Looking back at your history and being around many Jazz legends – what is your opinion of the jazz scene right now? There is of course amazing talent and amazing music being played – but when you look back and compare the Jazz scene to what it once was to now, what are your thoughts, is it the same? Has it changed?
Larry Vuckovich: I came to America I was 14 so before I started playing with musicians I got to listen live to these musicians first hand and I saw Jazz unfold in that era before my very eyes and ears and was very fortunate to be able to go through the history of this music. So anyway, what’s happening in Jazz is this – you know in history, there are decades and there are periods when you have the golden age of something where something happens for a while and then it’s gone, even though it continues later in a different form. You had all those great periods, Rag Time, Swing, Boogie Woogy, Bepop at its best you know also Post Bop, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Coleman. The Jazz was a natural development – from Swing you had Bebop so you needed to know the harmony from the past plus the new harmony that came out. Then Bill Evans introduced fresh harmonies and so on so it was all logically connected. So as those older guys died, the younger musicians learn from records and from theory and classes and schools. They did not have the opportunity to hear and play with those people first hand. So the swinging natural Jazz rhythm has kind of lost its presence. You have rhythm but that loose natural elastic swinging thing is not generally found in the new musicians. But as a rule, the music has become more clinical but those guys in that era could bring tears to your eyes man. It’s not the same man – it’s just not the same man.
Pescara Jazz – I would love to be able to hear you play one day at the Pescara Jazz festival? Any plans to come back and play?
Larry Vuckovich: Sure man! I would love to come back to Pescara and play.
Larry is very actively working on several projects and to follow up on his music visit his website here: http://www.larryvuckovich.com